Exploring Applied Leadership Challenge Spaces

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Why do we need a Leadership Space?

I have often stood on the shoulders of Giants in developing both my thinking and practice of leadership.  Aristotle is. the earliest and one of the most paramount of those Giants. I often paraphrase the classic thoughts of Aristotle in his various writings on leadership as.

TO DO the right things, in the right way, by and for the right people, in the right places and with the right impact’.”

The emphasis must always be on “To Do”.  Every leadership thought should lead to an action and not just remain as a thought.  Leadership has been described as “doing the right things” whereas management can be viewed “as doing things right” (Peter Drucker and others).

As a leadership practitioner over thirty years of military, police and central government activities, when I look back, my aim was to put practice at the forefront.  On reflection (and drawing on my subsequent 18 years to date as an academic and commentator on leadership), my approach was more intuitive rather than theoretical driven.

If I had known then, what I know now, of course, I would have been a better leader, but I still take heart that what I practicised was value based.  I remember being asked at one of my early promotion boards in 1986 from Sergeant to Inspector in the Avon and Somerset Constabulary by the then Assistant Chief Constable:  “What makes a good leader?”  At that time, I answered intuitively (and, looking back, from my heart), ”A good leader gets other people to do what you want them to do because THEY want to do it”.  I can remember this conversation as if it was yesterday (which it was not!), but it must have had the right impact because I got almost immediate promotion to my first “white shirt” position (senior police officers then wore white shirts rather than the blue – all police officers (rightly) now wear white shirts).  I enjoyed my time as an Inspector as it gave me my first taste of leading beyond just the front line.  As important as it was as a Sergeant to lead my Constables, the Inspector role gave me a wider perspective with more semi-strategic responsbilities and some networking opportunities.  Network leadership has been a predomiant feature ever since.

Here, I am paraphrasing Aristotle in arguing that leadership concerns “doing the right things, in the right way, by and for the right people, in the right places and with the right impact”. His underpinning theory is that of ‘Phronesis which is “a type of wisdom or intelligence relevant to practical action”. Phronesis implies both good judgment (wisdom) and excellence of character and habits (behaviours). Who can argue with this as an underpinning foundation for leadership?

It is reasonable then to suggest that the concept of leadership – as we have progressed from the Old World Leaders through New World Leaders to todays’ Global World Leaders – is highly complex. Some argue that it is impossible, but my mantra is that the impossible is possible! We just need to have vision, underpinned by values and to align these in an inclusive and integrated manner.

Leadership practice can be applied in an intelligent way to achieve the outcomes that are desired. This is achieved by recognising the differing contexts within which different styles or approaches to leadership can be applied by understanding the dynamics of the contexts and using the appropriate mechanisms for the situation at that time. Previous theories and discussions on leadership have professed different approaches, as our initial section on the history of leadership has described. There is NO one-best way.

Our suggestion is that leadership is collective and will rely on the strengths of intelligence in reducing information asymmetry and in building the right skills for the right people, at the right time and in the right place.

Watch out for my next posts on the “How?” question – stepping up with the next Giant – Einstein.

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The Selfless Leader